The second chord in the first Verse of the song 'Michelle' by the Beatles is often interpreted as Bb7#9. Isn't that a bit of an overkill? I actually don't really hear the major triad dominantly and if I emphasize the D it sounds pretty 'strong'. Playing it as just Bbm7 doesn't change the vibe much too me, so I wondered if there is a good reason to interpret the chord as a major chord with additional tones and not vice versa.

  • I've always played it as ivm7, so can't figure out which version you're referring to, and in which key. Which words in particular are sung at that bar?
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 5 at 15:41
  • My songbook says Bbm7. (Well, one of my songbooks. The other says Gm7, but that's just because the whole song is transposed from F to D there.)
    – Divizna
    Commented Jan 5 at 15:58
  • @Tim I understood the question to mean the bar that sings "ma belle". And about the key, well... I'm a little confused here. F minor, it seems by the signature, but where I'd expect the tonic, the chord is F major. Weird.
    – Divizna
    Commented Jan 5 at 16:10
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    «My belle» ne sont pas des mots qui vont très bien ensemble...
    – Divizna
    Commented Jan 5 at 16:32
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    I think there's a d in the harmony of the voices in the previous "Mi-chelle" (the F key), the change of notes of the voices is not that swift, so for an instant there's a major sensation of the IV minor. Commented Jan 5 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


If we listen to the recording version (where the backing vocal in the mix is more audible) and look at what they are singing in this score, for the 2nd chord after the F, the backing vocal sings Bb7 for the full 3 beats during which the melody (2nd beat "ma" is having a Db, the #9). Bb7 makes perfect sense harmonically here, since it's the dominant 7th of the 3rd chord Eb6.

In contrast with your opinion, if we change Bb7 to a Bbm7 that WILL change the character of the accompaniment, so the "D" should be preserved to be consistent with the backing vocal and also serving as a more pointed dominant chord to Eb, which Paul McCartney consistently does.

But why does Paul McCartney also play the #9 (C#)? If we see the score linked above where the guitar part is fully written out, we can see the chromatic motif very evident in the 4-measure introduction, the motif he continues into the chorus right after the intro:

  • In the intro, the most prominent single-note sequence we hear in the guitar (more obvious in the recording version) are the very notes responsible for the chord progression Fm-Fm(maj7)-Fm7-Fm6-Dbmaj7-C, which are F-E-Eb-D-Db-C.
  • Right after the intro when he starts singing the melody, he then continues this chromatic motif in the top note that is also responsible for the chord progression F-Bb7#9-Eb6-Ddim7-C-Bdim7-C, which are C-C#-C-B-C-B-C, although not as audible as the intro, following the chromatic rising & falling contour of the melody. (We can hear this much better in the White House video. In the last 4 chords he didn't follow the score.)

Conclusion: In my opinion, Bb7#9 is fulfilling a dual function: as V7 to the 3rd chord, and as #9 preserving the chromatic motif. Adding the C# to the D in Bb7 also makes the chord more dissonant than a simple Bbm7, making it more consistent with the pattern of alternating consonant chords (F, Eb6, C, C) with dissonant chords (Bb7#9, Dbdim7, Bdim7).

Yes, I found a lot of scores on the Internet with Bbm7 chord such as here, here, and here. I also found scores with Gm7 when the key signature is D minor such as here and here. Even a score with F major as the key signature such as here which still has Bbm7 as the 2nd chord. I'm not sure whether they are official or not. But I also find 2 identical looking "for purchase" versions (a piano reduction score) here and here where the key signature is F minor and has Bb7#9 as the 2nd chord. In that version, the piano notes form a Bb7 chord (without the #9) vindicating my analysis above where the harmonic accompaniment (which is done by backing vocal in the recordings) is intended to be Bb7, but in live performances Paul McCartney adds the #9 in his guitar.

  • An interesting synopsis. +1.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 6 at 15:24
  • Great answer, thx! Commented Jan 6 at 18:35

The answer to your title question is: because that’s what Paul wrote and played. The fact is, and I’m a little surprised to say, it IS a Bb7#9. I always thought based on the melody and the fact that his guitar is a bit buried in the mix there that it was a Bbm7 but was proven wrong by this video of Paul playing it:

He plays the song in C with capo 5 making it sound in the key of F (and F minor) and at 0:42 you can actually see him play this chord: 1-3-1-2-4-4 or 6-8-6-7-9-9, not accounting for the capo. The notes are: Bb-F-Ab-D-Ab-C#, Bb7#9. The guitar chord sounds crystal clear on the video, but not on the original studio recording.

Mike Pachelli, an amazing guitarist who does very accurate transcriptions of Beatles tunes confirms this at around 6:42 of this video:


  • I think the "real" question is, why does it matter, since the Bm7 sounds fine.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 6 at 1:26
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    @Aaron I assume you mean Bbm7. Just because something sounds fine doesn’t make it right or accurate. Commented Jan 6 at 1:29
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    Yes, Bbm7. Typo. But I think your comment gets exactly at the heart of the question: is it better to be right or to be effective? Both you and OP agree that Bbm7 sounds better despite the fact that Bb7#9 is correct. Without that discussion, this is really just a transcription, "what chord is this" question.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 6 at 1:54
  • @Aaron Rather than the Db in the Bbm7 being essential, I argue in my answer that it is the D in the Bb7 that is essential, while the C#/Db is an add-on, thus getting at the heart of the question, short of inviting Paul McCartney himself to contribute the answer to Music.SE :-) (need to hurry since he's 81 now). Commented Jan 6 at 14:37
  • @GratefulDisciple I agree that the D makes it a V-I relationship to the Eb but I disagree that the C#/Db is just an add on because it is a melody note and that makes it important and essential. Commented Jan 6 at 17:57

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